Los Angeles Times

China's make-or-break program sends pandas back into the wild in a bid to prevent their extinction

BEIJING - The panda cub snuffles, stretches out a tiny paw and snuggles with his mother, Cao Cao. She stirs, sniffs him gently and gives him a lick as they rest in her maternity enclosure at the Hetaoping Wilderness Training Base in the mist-wreathed mountains of southwestern China.

The cub, 2 months old and too small to be named, is the size of a house cat. He and his sister are rare genetic treasures, the first twin giant panda cubs born to a wild male panda and a female sent back into the wild to mate.

In the last two years, Cao Cao, a mother of nine, has given birth to the only three progeny of an ambitious return-to-nature program that Chinese scientists hope will save the species from extinction. Cao Cao, 16, was born in the wilds herself before being taken into captivity in Sichuan when she was about 13 months old.

One of her male cubs, Tao

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